Educational Technology Leadership starts at the top

04/01/2012  |  Darryl Vidal
Virtual Classrooms
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Many schools and districts (and especially PTAs) purchase classroom devices without determining what or how they will be used. These purchases are rarely reviewed and/or approved by the IT department.

How can you determine what end-points to buy if you haven’t determined what you will do with the endpoint? Who pays for software upgrades and/or licenses?

This article will discuss how to take the subjective planning process over the implementation hump.

Oftentimes, a conversation between Education Technology and IT departments goes like this:

Ed Tech: We need 32 laptops in Mr. X’s classroom.

IT: What will you use them for?

Ed Tech: We will be piloting our 1-to-1 project.

IT: What will you do with them?

Ed Tech: The students and teachers will use them.

IT: What will the students and teachers do with them?

Ed Tech: They will use them in the classroom, for their projects.

IT: What software will they be using?

Ed Tech: XXXX software.

IT: Is it paid for?

Ed Tech: They already have a copy.

IT: Really? Will it work with the new laptops?

The questions that still haven’t been asked will be:

  • Will the current version of the software work with the OS on the Laptops?
  • How will they be networked?
  • Do they need printers?
  • Where will they be stored?
  • How will they be charged?
  • Who will be responsible to secure them?
  • Who will support them when there is a technical issue?
  • Who will support them when there is a software issue?

The key to progress beyond this exercise requires two things:

Planning

Instruction needs a curriculum plan that tells IT what the requirements will be based on the curriculum systems they have selected. This plan would then identify the software requirements, hardware requirements, implementation and training plan.

Infrastructure

All the follow-up questions need to be addressed after the first set of questions are asked.

This requires collaboration of Educational Technology and IT. Educational Technology must create the curriculum plan, which will dictate the hardware and software requirements. Then they must work with IT to develop the infrastructure requirements.

The Trouble with the “Technology Plan”

Many schools/districts develop a technology plan that looks something like this:

By 2013, 20 percent of our classrooms will have Electronic Learning Resources.

By 2014, 40 percent of our classrooms will have Electronic Learning Resources.

By 2013, 20 percent of our teachers demonstrate competency using 21st Century learning goals.

The trouble with these types of technology plans is that it provides a lot of detail about what results are preferred, but rarely do they address actual infrastructure, equipment and hard budgets to achieve the goals.

For instance, the plans may call for instructional software to be used in the classroom, yet there is no provision for providing access to a computer for every student in that classroom.

Or, a computer is planned for each student, but the Local Area Network doesn’t have the provision (bandwidth) to support 32 new computers in each classroom.

The technologist will interpret the desired outcomes presented in the technology plan, then work with the IT department to determine what infrastructure will be required to achieve the outcomes. Often times, the budgets developed by the instructional side of the house don’t provide a realistic estimate for the infrastructure that will be required — mainly because there is a fundamental lack of depth of understanding of infrastructure requirements for campus-wide and/or district-wide technology implementations.

Technology Leadership

Technology strategy starts at the top — really. Although the superintendent as well as the Board of Education typically sign-off on district “technology plans,” they rarely are more than check-off approvals. But technology strategy MUST be established from the top-down, otherwise, when it comes time to ask for the money, everything will come into question. At all costs, the following questions — Why are we doing that? Who made that decision? — must be anticipated, answered and most importantly during a board meeting, avoided. By the time a plan or procurement reaches the board, it should be fully vetted by IT, Ed Tech, and each name up the ladder.

Executive sponsorship of technology initiatives is critical, in that district — or enterprise-wide implementations must be based on strategy and standards. These strategies and standards must be embraced at the highest level, otherwise the commitment and funding opportunities will be subject to the most finicky board member’s mood on that late evening board action.

The process of developing and establishing technology strategy, therefore, must start and end with district leadership.

THE WAY FORWARD
The Strategic Planning Process

To get started, a formal Strategic Planning process should be undertaken, sponsored at the highest level, and performed by someone objective and beyond reproach of departmental politics. I’m trying not to say, use a consultant, but...

The discovery process — including the kick-off meeting — should include the highest level stakeholders as possible in order to establish objectives and set expectations. The former is the obvious, the latter is less obvious. The discovery process is not only used as an opportunity to gather, compile and analyze information, but it is also an opportunity to gain buy-in and build credibility of the methodology, and expected outcomes and deliverables.

By forcing departments to come together, share information, and agree upon objectives, the process gains validity and credibility, while a process lacking these fundamental processes is doomed to failure.

The primary objective of the Discovery process is to identify and gain consensus on the Ed Tech Mission and Objectives.

If the technologist can summarize the objectives into two to four bullets, the primary agenda of the kick-off has been accomplished. If this cannot be attained, then it will need to be developed and accepted before further research or planning can proceed. Any work performed, assumptions made, or designs established would be made without executive sponsorship and suddenly those questions come up again — What are we doing? Who made that decision?

The most destructive comments that can come after the fact are:

  • I don’t know how they came up with that.
  • I didn’t make that decision.
  • They didn’t ask me about that.

Once goals and objectives are established, it will be contingent on curriculum to lay the groundwork for the rest of the process. The curriculum group must develop curriculum needs and requirements. The education technology group must develop system needs and requirements. The information technology department must develop technical needs and requirements. Finally, the professional development group must develop the training, communication, and follow-up plans.

Strategy vs. Tactics

Imagine it is the 1800s and you are planning a long journey to a far away land. Your goals and objectives will dictate what you are trying to accomplish and why. You will have to determine, in general, where you would like to end up, and what you will need when you get there. For instance, if you were in St. Louis, and you had to travel to the west, your objective might be to live in San Francisco.

Your strategy will be the general ways and means to accomplish your objectives. In this example, you would decide that the best way would be to join a wagon train headed West.

Your tactics are what you need to do to get to execute your strategy. How you will travel. What path and when? What supplies you will need during the journey? Even, how will you navigate and measure your progress?

Your tactics would be to buy some oxen and a covered-wagon, supplies, rations, hunting rifles and ammunition, etc.

These strategic and tactical plans are just as important as the vision itself. Where the vision provides the ultimate goal, the development of the strategy and tactics will give you the first indication of whether this goal can be achieved or not. Do the paths and methods even exist?

As you lay down the tactical requirements, you will gain understanding for the investment in time and resources necessary to make the journey.

Darryl Vidal has a bachelor’s degree in Information Management and has been helping schools implement technology for over 20 years. His primary instructional focus for over 15 years has been the ever evolving technology classroom. Mr. Vidal is the founder of educational collaboration software service School Web Lockers, a cloud-based file storage and homework drop-box service for K-12 students nationwide.For more information, visit www.networldsolutions.com.
Comments & Ratings
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  Comments

  6/18/2012 10:43:03 AM
Ronald 


New Comment 
Hi Freida I am interested in using your video on SMART borads on our website as we do many installs of this nature. Would you be willing to share the video with me to put on our website if we give you the credit? You can also contact me at 717.796.0493 to discuss. Thanks hope to hear from you soon!
  4/12/2012 8:06:35 PM
Justin 


Very Interesting 
This article was written so well. I am left with no questions regarding this process. In fact, when I am getting ready to plan anything with an important goal ahead of me I will probably use this saved article as my main source to making sure I go at it the correct way for success.

Thanks

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